How Antidepressants Work: Unraveling the Mechanisms and Myths

What is the Duration of Antidepressant Treatment?

Embarking on a course of antidepressant treatment often requires a considerable commitment of time. Abruptly discontinuing the treatment prematurely may lead to the resurgence of painful symptoms. This has led many to mistakenly believe that antidepressants can be addictive.

The Expert’s Insight

According to Anastasia Ermilova, Psychiatrist:

“Understanding the intricacies of antidepressant treatment is crucial. The misconception around their addictiveness stems from the need for a prolonged treatment course. Discontinuation before the necessary duration increases the likelihood of symptoms returning.”

How Do Antidepressants Work?

To comprehend the working mechanism of antidepressants, it’s essential to delve into the various groups of these medications. The fundamental principle underlying their efficacy lies in the regulation of neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

The most prevalent group of antidepressants, SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, functions by augmenting the levels of serotonin in the synaptic cleft. This process contributes to a gradual normalization of mood without inducing euphoria.

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Neuronal Growth Activation

Another pivotal mechanism involves the activation of neuronal growth factors. Antidepressants facilitate the formation of new connections in the brain, although this process is notably slow. This accounts for the extended duration of these medications.

Are Antidepressants a Cure or Effective Only During Use?

The antidepressant’s therapeutic effect typically manifests after 2–4 weeks of consistent use, stabilizing mood gradually. The treatment for the initial episode of depression persists until symptoms vanish. Subsequently, a preventive phase spanning at least six months ensues, aimed at solidifying the neuronal connections that “know” how to function without the burden of depression and anxiety.

The Expert’s Advice

Anastasia Ermilova emphasizes:

“Completion of the treatment course involves a gradual reduction in antidepressant dosage by the physician. This minimizes the risk of withdrawal syndrome, allowing the biochemical processes in the brain to adapt to the absence of the ‘crutch.’ Thus, if the treatment is not prematurely halted, there is usually no need to resort to antidepressants again.”

What Happens if Alcohol is Consumed During Antidepressant Treatment?

The confluence of alcohol and antidepressants raises concerns due to alcohol’s depressant effects. The instructions accompanying all antidepressants recommend abstaining from alcohol due to the lack of definitive data on their interaction.

Potential Consequences

Oleg Olshanskiy, Psychiatrist, warns:

“Consequences of mixing alcohol and antidepressants can range from blood pressure fluctuations to heightened side effects and even hallucinations. It is prudent to err on the side of caution.”

Can Antidepressants Pose Real Harm?

The terminology matters when discussing the potential negative effects of antidepressants. It’s not about them “bringing harm,” but rather the possibility of them causing harm due to side effects and contraindications.

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Expert Opinion

Oleg Olshanskiy clarifies:

“Using the term ’cause’ instead of ‘bring’ is more accurate. Yes, antidepressants can induce harm since they come with side effects and contraindications. It’s crucial for individuals to be aware of these potential risks.”

In conclusion, navigating the landscape of antidepressant treatment involves understanding their mechanisms, respecting the duration of treatment, and being cautious with potential interactions. While these medications play a vital role in mental health, informed decision-making and adherence to professional advice are key to a successful treatment journey.


How Long Should Antidepressant Treatment Last?

Antidepressant treatment should last until symptoms subside entirely. Premature discontinuation may lead to the resurgence of symptoms, and the duration varies based on individual response and the nature of the depressive episode.

Where Can I Find Information on Antidepressant Side Effects?

Comprehensive information on antidepressant side effects can be found in the accompanying medication leaflet or by consulting your prescribing physician. They can provide insights into potential side effects and how to manage them.

What Mechanisms Are Involved in the Action of Antidepressants?

The action of antidepressants involves regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels, while activation of neuronal growth factors facilitates the formation of new connections in the brain.

When Does the Antidepressant’s Therapeutic Effect Occur?

The therapeutic effect of antidepressants typically manifests after 2–4 weeks of consistent use. It is a gradual process, stabilizing mood over time. The duration of treatment extends beyond symptom relief to consolidate the newly formed neuronal connections.

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To What Extent Can Alcohol be Consumed During Antidepressant Treatment?

Alcohol consumption during antidepressant treatment is discouraged due to the depressant effects of alcohol. Specific interactions can vary, and it’s advisable to err on the side of caution. Mixing alcohol and antidepressants may lead to undesirable consequences, including blood pressure fluctuations and heightened side effects.

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